Fed up with chemicals, four Colorado ladies take skin care into their own hands
Vail, CO Colorado
Claims about the dangers hidden in our beauty care products have recently gained traction thanks to independent studies by watchdog organizations like the Environmental Working Group and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The chemicals found in personal care products — some known carcinogens — are cause for concern, these groups say, and the public is finally taking notice. Colorado women Veronica Ross, Cary Hogan, Lily Morgan and Myra Michelle Eby never thought it was a good idea to apply potentially toxic chemicals on the skin, an organ that absorbs 40 percent of what you slather on it. So independently, each of them set out to create the most natural skin care products they could. What this means for Colorado consumers is now we have four choices in skin care that are not only local, but safe, natural and totally beauty boosting.
Harvesting supple skin
When Veronica Ross was a little girl, her grandmother would send her out in the woods surrounding Red Cliff to hunt for chamomile and mint for tea, goose berries for pie, rose hips for jam and ocha, or American ginseng, for just about everything. Her grandmother had a natural remedy for any ailment.
“My grandmother would show us what it looked like one time and then we’d go out and pick what she needed,” Veronica says. “It’s something her parents handed down to her. She said we had Native Indian blood in our family. It’s our heritage.”
Veronica, who was born and raised here, and her husband, Michael, have parlayed their knowledge of the different benefits nature has to give into a line of spa products. Called Buzz Spa, the Rosses make exclusive scrubs, lotions, body butters, massage oils, soaps and washes for Allegria Spa in Beaver Creek and Spa Anjali in the Westin in Avon, along with a few out-of-state spas, to use in their treatments and to sell in their boutiques under the spas’ private labels. You may have experienced the wildflower scrub at Allegria, for example, made from locally harvested chamomile, rose petals and rose hips.
“There is a myth that just because a product is organic that it’s a great product. To be certified organic doesn’t mean that all the ingredients are organic. In fact, there are not-so-nice ingredients in many of the mainstream organic products,” Veronica says. “Our goal is to make a natural product that exceeds the standards of organic products. We use organic ingredients, but we’re a small company, so we don’t pay for the certification, which is expensive.”
Veronica and Michael’s very first beauty product attempt was making oatmeal soap. They didn’t know exactly how, but started to experiment. So they ground the oatmeal, poured it into the soap mixture and away Michael went into the shower excited to try it.
“He came out of the shower and says, ‘Honey, we got a problem.’ So I went in to check it out and he was bleeding all over. The oatmeal scratched him all up. We didn’t grind it small enough,” Veronica says. “And then Michael says, ‘If we don’t come up with something different, we’re out of business.”
Buzz Spa has come along way since the oatmeal incident. Most of their recipes and products are born out of necessity, like the rich body butter, sold at Allegria and used by the spa’s massage therapists. It was first developed to combat the Rosses’ son’s eczema, which it did, because it has no alcohol or emulsifier, just pure butters and oils, including Vitamin E. Buzz Spa’s massage oil with arnica, a native flower, came out of client request. Arnica helps with bruising and inflammation, making a great sports massage, also sold at Allegria.
As Buzz Spa grows, the amount Veronica harvests locally shrinks. Veronica is worried about what extensive harvesting might do to the local landscape, as in the case of American ginseng, which is almost extinct in some areas of the United States. Veronica wants to make sure every step of the process is sustainable, so if she’s not gathering the ingredients from the Rockies herself, she asks a lot of questions on the ethics of her purveyor’s harvesting and growing practices. And when she can, like with her honey from Durango, she sources regionally.
Buzz Spa packaging is made from recycled materials, and Veronica picks up all the empty buckets and jars from her spa clients and sterilizes them for reuse if possible, and if she can’t do that, she recycles them. When she’s used the last drop of grape seed or sunflower oil from the 55 gallon barrels, she gives the barrels to a rancher in Yampa, who in turn makes barbecues out of them to give to local churches.
Veronica’s latest endeavor is a consumer line of skin products, called Chené Botanicals, named after her great-great grandfather who was French Canadian, set to be sold at wellness clinics and natural food stores.
“My dream is to grow to the point where I can employ local people to manufacture my products, to provide an industry to support a small town up here in the mountains,” Veronica says.
You can buy and experience Buzz Spa products at Allegria Spa in the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and Spa Anjali in the Westin in Avon.
Skin care dreams do come true
As an organic gardener for 30 years, Cary Hogan felt she was compromising herself and her family smearing chemical-laden body lotion all over their skin. Plus, nothing off the shelves would keep her son’s eczema or her own dry skin at bay.
So the Gypsum resident flipped open her aromatherapy and natural healing books and began mixing ingredients in her kitchen. Aloe vera, apricot oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil and grapeseed oil combine with eight essential oils to form Dream Cream, a body lotion that soothes and conditions dry skin. It’s cured her son’s eczema, and men apply it as an aftershave because of its distinctive cooling properties.
As healing as Dream Cream is, it’s the scent that inspires you to lather more and more on.
“I hate the smell of anything that has chemicals on it. I can smell the chemicals on the flowers in Wal-Mart. I want to smell like a spa,” Hogan says.
Exotic, floral and fresh, Dream Cream’s scent is a secret. But any well-trained nose can smell lavender, a healing powerhouse, and the uplifting aroma of lemongrass. The six other essential oils combine to produce bold reactions in passerbys, like my husband, who exclaims, “Oh, my God, do you smell good,” every time I wear it, quickly grabbing me for a nuzzle.
Hogan bottles 500 to 1,000 Dream Creams a year using a device her architect brother invented modeled after a potato launcher. You can buy Dream Cream — and her “Good Smelling Bug Spray” that’s proven its worth in insect havens like Costa Rica and Texas — at www.dreamcreamcolorado.com and locally at Avon Liquor and Nature’s Providers in Avon.
From seed to shelf to face
Lily Morgan was not going to let teenage acne get the best of her face. So the tenacious 15-year-old researched ingredients found in both expensive department store skin care and the cheaper grocery store variety to see which would provide a cure.
Whether it was $50 or $2, the ingredients were basically the same in all commercial skin care, and after looking up each chemical ingredient in her farmer father’s reference books, by definition, not one of these chemicals was going to clear up her skin.
“In 1970 as a young girl, I could have cared less about putting toxic chemicals on my skin if they worked, but they didn’t,” Morgan said.
Desperate, she turned to a different type of reference book, one on natural healing, and began making skin care in her kitchen. She started with a facial peel made from quality apple cider vinegar and water. She experimented with olive oil to moisturize and blended papaya as a mask. What worked for her skin inspired Morgan to share her successes, and, at age 28, she bought a Colorado farm and began her seed-to-shelf skin care line, Lily Organics.
“It’s the only USDA-certified organic skin-care line on the planet,” Morgan says.
Near Brighton, she grows all her own herbs and flowers, like calendula, used in one of her favorite products, Balancing Facial Toner, for its anti-infammatory properties. Comfrey, another favorite homegrown ingredient, helps skin cells regenerate and is used in many Lily Organics products, like the Rejuvenating Enzyme Mask, specializing in brightening and toning the face.
For anything she can’t grow, like the almond oil used to make homemade soap for many of her cleansers, Morgan tries to offset her carbon footprint by planting trees. Lily Organics are packaged in glass and are shipped using recycled boxes.
But the biggest tell-tale sign that Lilly Organics is a superior botanical skin care line is its short, year-long shelf life.
“You can’t mass market quality skin care. You have to make it up fresh, and it can’t last forever,” Morgan says.
You can buy Lily Organics at Nature’s Providers in Avon, Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage, Clark’s Market in Aspen and online at www.lilyorganics.com.
Science plus nature equals beauty
Myra Michelle Eby believes in the power of science, but she doesn’t believe in using chemicals on the skin. So after years as a sales rep for various natural cosmetic companies, listening to consumers cry for toxic-free skin care that’s actually effective against dermo dilemmas like aging and sun damage, Eby started her own line called MyChelle.
MyChelle, based in Frisco, combines the best of what top dermatologists know with plant-based ingredients grown around the world, like SCO2 Totarol, a plant extract from Totara trees in New Zealand.
“Not only is it a potent, super-critical ingredient that has natural antibacterial and antioxidant properties, but it also is a wonderful, natural preservative,” Eby says.
SCO2 Totara allows MyChelle to have the same shelf life as other products without the use of harsh chemicals for preservation.
Armed with a blender and the freshest produce, Eby would experiment with kitchen cosmetics prior to starting her own company. Some of the recipes continue to inspire MyChelle’s current products, like the Fruit Fiesta Peel and Tropical Skin Smoother, both intended to polish your skin to glow.
But the product Eby couldn’t live without is MyChelle’s Incredible Pumpkin Peel, using natural acids to exfoliate and vitamins to nourish.
“Great for rejuvenating sun-damaged and dull skin. Blemish prone skin also benefits greatly from this special treatment by exfoliating dead skin cells and allowing for ultimate tissue respiration and detoxification,” Eby says.
MyChelle is always free of the toxins commonly found in mainstream skin care, like phthalates, parabens, propylene glycol, fragrances and encapsulated nanoparticles. Eby endorses the Compact for Safe Cosmetics Act, signifying her support for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of nonprofit health and environmental organizations pulling together to demand that the personal care industry phase out the use of carcinogens.
“There is absolutely no reason to have many of the ingredients that are in conventional products. Our goal is to educate and provide information to consumers so that they can make an educated purchase to a smart environmentally friendly world,” Eby says
Locally, you can buy MyChelle products at Nature’s Providers in Avon and at Beaver Creek Cosmetics in the Beaver Creek Plaza.
A version of this story first appeared in V Magazine.